Our History

Leave No Trace was incorporated as a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization in 1994, though the Leave No Trace concept is over a half-century old. Created by the USDA Forest Service in the 1960’s, Leave No Trace was seen as increasingly necessary as public land use expanded and land managers witnessed the biophysical effects of this use.

By the mid-1980’s, the Forest Service had a formal “No-Trace” program emphasizing wilderness ethics and sustainable travel and camping practices. The success of this program lead to cooperation among the Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management’s authorship of a pamphlet entitled “Leave No Trace Land Ethics.” In the early 1990s, the Forest Service worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) to develop hands-on, science-based minimum impact education training for non-motorized recreational activities.

An outdoor recreation summit convened in 1993 that included the various outdoor industry and sporting trade associations, NOLS, nonprofit organizations, outdoor manufacturers and federal land management agencies to create an independent nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace, Inc. The organization, now known as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center), was incorporated to develop and expand Leave No Trace training and educational resources, spread the general program components, and engage a diverse range of partners from the federal land management agencies and outdoor industry corporations to nonprofit environmental and outdoor organizations and youth-serving groups.

In 1994, the Center entered into the first of a series of Memorandums of Understandings with four primary federal land management agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture — Forest Service and the United States Department of the Interior — Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service. Recently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers joined these federal land management agencies. In 2007, the National Association of State Parks Directors, the governing organization for state parks in the United States, and the Center developed a formal affiliate partnership to expand the possible use of the Leave No Trace program on state park lands.

Today, the Leave No Trace program reaches over 15 million Americans and dozens of countries each year with conservation initiatives, education, training, research and outreach.  Corporate partners, individual members, foundation support, and the sales of Leave No Trace educational materials provide the primary support for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

A national, volunteer-based Board of Directors made up of leaders from the outdoor industry, national youth-serving organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the scientific community provide strategic leadership and set policy. A staff headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, carry out the organization’s programs and mission-related work.